Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

In 1982, three 11-year old boys in Mississippi, Chris Strompolo, Jayson Lamb and Eric Zala, set out to remake their favorite films of all times: “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” They filmed the whole thing shot by shot – except for the famous exploding airplane climax. Twenty-five years later, with Kickstarter funding, the trio, with their family and friends, set out to correct this omission. Their story is told in “Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made.”

Robin:
Filmmakers Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen followed the now middle-aged filmmakers once they learned of and saw the guys’ “Raiders of the Lost Ark: Adaptation” that took the youngsters, back in their day. seven summers and all they money they could scrape up from their birthdays and Christmas presents. Using the basement of one of their mothers’ house, they made their shot-by-shot recreation of their revered film.

Coon and Skousen began their documentary just when Strompolo, Zala and Lamb began planning the completion of their life long dream: to blow up a full size airplane and finish the last scene of their kid cult classic. The documentarians capture the enthusiasm of these adult children living their dream – even at the risk, for one of them, of losing his job.

The filmmakers have the advantage of a wealth of archival footage from the teens as they made their recreation. In one instance, they chronicle the Nepalese bar scene from the original Raiders, including setting the mother’s basement on fire – without any real safety equipment on hand. It had to be harrowing for the boys’ family, but the kid in me would probably do the same thing.

The kids’ dedication to their project, through their adulthood, is obvious and Coon and Skousen show the dedication and spirit, even through the tougher times of production, of all involved. I give it a B.

Laura:
In 1982, 11 year old best buddies Eric Zala and Chris Strompolos were so enamored of Steven Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark," they decided to embark on a shot for shot remake.  Together with Jayson Lamb, a classmate who had access to a camera and knowledge of effects, they spent 7 years on their project, completing all but one scene.  Over the ensuing years, the friendships broke down, but twenty-five years later they reunited to film the explosive airport scene and finish "Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made."

Adapting Alan Eisenstock's book, filmmakers Tim Skousen and Jeremy Coon use a nonlinear approach to this endearing story in an attempt to add mystery which dilutes its overall focus.  Nonetheless, they've chosen an incredible subject.  Anyone who's ever had a passion project or loves film should enjoy going along for the ride.

After the boys put their finished 'adaptation' on VHS, it began to be shared, copies going underground until they'd reached the likes of horror director Eli Roth, seen here enthusing over the film.  Harry Knowles included it in one of his Butt-Numbathons where the crowd booed when the tape was turned off in favor of the scheduled premiere of Peter Jackson's "Two Towers."  National media attention followed.

These kids were serious.  When Zala's mother became alarmed after a dangerous fire stunt nearly went terribly wrong, she engaged a local man, a former "Dawn of the Dead" extra as adult supervision.  They set more fires in the home's basement.  Jay forgets to apply Vaseline before making a plaster face cast with dire results.

Gradually Skousen and Coon weave in these kids' more personal back stories. They were the children of divorce.  Comic book nerd Zala was often lonely, but his life changed when he got a girlfriend, a young woman who got involved in their project, but something spurred his best friend to try and steal her away, just to see if he could do it.  When local media began to show an interest, Eric and Chris were shown with props made by Jayson who got little to no mention, birthing resentment.  While Chris and Eric remained friends, Chris accused Eric of selling out his dreams with his 9 to 5 job, yet Eric stood by his friend as he began to get into the Hollywood drug scene, at least until things escalated beyond  endurance.

The twenty-fifth reunion of cast and crew to shoot that last, expensive scene, is therefore, quite an achievement.  There are still multiple problems in achieving their dreams with Eric on the cusp of losing his job when he needs more time due to weather delays.  If watching these grown men spend thousands to finish a childhood endeavor seems crazy, well, it reminded me of a dear departed friend who would have been right in there with them.  And following through brings several silver linings.

"Raiders!" features "Raiders of the Lost Ark's" Sallah, John Rhys-Davies, giving commentary throughout (as do the boys' moms).  We also hear about the trio's wonderment and excitement meeting Steven Spielberg at his invitation.

Grade:  B-
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